Death and the Maiden Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden won the Olivier award as Best New Play in its 1991 London production, and garnered a Tony Award as Best Actress for Glenn Close in the Broadway production in 1992. It is a taut three-hander involving a woman who had been tortured and raped when kidnapped years earlier by a tyrannical regime; her husband, a prominent attorney; and a doctor whom the woman believes to be her rapist. An early scene with her husband, Gerardo Escobar (Kevin Daugherty), involves bickering, unfortunately, as it is the sole chance for her to display warmth before becoming an avenging force. Escobar brings the news of his appointment to a newly formed reconciliation panel — the fascist government is no more. Daugherty is convincing and compelling, though a scene where he turns avenger is written for melodrama, perhaps overwritten. As Dr. Roberto Miranda, John Stevens brings charm and intelligence to the role, perforce shedding these almost immediately as he is tied to a chair, to be interrogated. The power of these actors carries us through several weaknesses in the script, but the writing is brilliant in keeping alive the question of whether Dr. Miranda is in fact the torturer. The play is an acting challenge, a vehicle for brilliant performances, and Daugherty and Roberts inhabit their roles, each wearing his like a glove. Malinda L. Beckham carries the narrative, and delivers a forceful personality and a Medea-like thirst for vengeance, but doesn't include the vulnerability that might lead to greater empathy. Trevor B. Cone directed with exemplary pace. Music and sound are important to the production, and done very well. A powerful psychological thriller uses violence and menace to generate interest, in a suspense-filled study of vigilante revenge. Through November 16. Theatre Southwest, 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — JJT

Die Fledermaus If Houston Grand Opera's sparkling production of Johann Strauss II's Die Fledermaus ("The Bat") isn't the finest vintage grand cru champagne, it is nonetheless from a very good year. It looks great in the glass, the bubbles tickle your nose and by the end you will be pleasantly intoxicated. Although reset to 1930s Manhattan via a fantasy Art Deco Hollywood (designer Richard Roberts and Academy Award-winning costumer Angus Strathie are invited back to HGO any time they wish), Strauss's eternally fresh operetta remains firmly planted in its true home, fin-de-siècle Vienna (1874), during the last gasp of the Austro-Hungarian empire, where patrons waltzed the nighttime away and pretended that Vienna was still the center of the universe. Marital fidelity gets a bashing in this bracing tale. Although husband Eisenstein must serve a five-day prison sentence, he receives an invitation to Prince Orlovsky's swanky masked ball. He's all too anxious to get there to meet the girls, so he lies to his wife: He'll go to the party first, then go to jail. Meanwhile, wife Rosalinde has been besieged by former lover Alfredo, a singer (who arrives on a window washer's scaffold), and is about to relent when she, too, receives an invite and a costume. Her sassy maid Adele gets asked also, and she lies about a dying grandmother to get out of work and attend the party. Everyone's on the make. All this is an elaborate ruse set up by Eisenstein's friend Falke, who's out for comic revenge for a prank Eisenstein pulled on him at a previous party. Adultery and champagne — what a combo, how Viennese. The A-list cast is first-rate, getting into the giddy mood with soaring abandon. Former HGO Studio alum and baritone Liam Bonner is a standout as Eisenstein. Not only does this tall, handsome singer look terrific in tuxedo or dressing gown (Douglas Fairbanks Jr., anyone?), but his sonorous, resonant voice fills the Brown Theater with impeccable diction. Those annoying, incessantly rhyming English lyrics by David Pountnet and Leonard Hancock, adapted by director Lindy Hume, sound positively Noël Coward-esque when phrased with his surefire stage presence and technique. Bonner is on his way to the operatic big leagues. An Eisenstein with the looks and moves of Cary Grant needs a co-star like Irene Dunne or Jean Arthur. While not quite in this cinematic league, soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer is game, with a radiant, silvery voice that sails over Strauss's orchestration and matches Bonner's in precise diction. (No need for surtitles when these two sing.) Her best number — with the cleverest lyrics — is when she impersonates a Hungarian countess at Orlovsky's party and is asked to sing one of those sweet homeland songs. She makes it up as she goes along, confusing Bucharest with Budapest, that sort of thing. It's very funny and she sings it beautifully. International coloratura soprano, Texas native and HGO favorite Laura Claycomb chews up the impressive scenery as parlor maid Adele with winking glee, playing the antic second-banana role with scene-stealing trickery and patented brilliance in her singing. Meanwhile, the international mezzo Susan Graham, another HGO favorite, plays it cool and manly in her pants role as Orlovsky. Her thick, creamy voice, like the best crème brûlée imaginable, envelopes her signature "Chacun à son goût" ("Each to his own taste") with that dusky tone that is one of opera's natural wonders. Tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, perhaps the pre-eminent interpreter of Benjamin Britten's tormented Peter Grimes, shows a very sprightly side as randy Alfredo. Delightfully silly, he boogies with sexual tension, wrapping a leg around Rosamond as he pins her to the sofa. As usual, HGO's chorus sounds lilting throughout, and maestro Thomas Rösner dances through Strauss's glittering score. November 2, 8 and 10 (matinee). Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas, 713-228-6737. — DLG

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